First time I saw the Lesser Prairie-Chicken was in 2003 in western Oklahoma. Even back then I was aware that their population was in a sharp decline. A few years later a massive wind farm operation was expanded in the region and destroyed much of their historic leks which have been used for spring courtship. I am not a scientist, but around 2011 the population decline was so alarming that I couldn’t help but notice their decline. I could not find any bird in several leks where I’d photographed them before.
Currently the Lesser Prairie-Chicken are found only in five states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Only Kansas has a substantial population to have a short hunting season.
In western Kansas where historically the birds had been doing better than four other states despite of the hunting season, there is no denying that the expansion of oil and gas drilling took a heavy toll on them.
Studies from several conservation agencies concluded that last year, the Lesser Prairie-Chicken’s population across the five states declined to fewer than 18,000 birds — nearly 50 percent lower than 2012 population estimates.
So placing the Lesser Prairie-Chicken on the “Threatened Species” protection is not only undoubtedly needed and but also a long overdue. This bill will serve to limit commercial activities on the birds’ habitats and provide protection that they desperately need. We can only hope that this initiation of protection will give the birds a chance to bounce back to a healthy population, enough to save them from extinction.